Most Damning Stats from Arkansas’ Loss in Fayetteville Regional Go Beyond Hitting

Dave Van Horn, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs SEMO, Fayetteville Regional, NCAA Tournament
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — Another promising Arkansas baseball season came to a sputtering end Sunday afternoon.

Despite winning their fifth SEC West title in six years and earning the No. 5 national seed, the Razorbacks didn’t even make it out of their own regional. They were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament with a disappointing 6-3 loss to Southeast Missouri State.

It’s the second straight year Arkansas failed to reach the super regional as a top-8 seed and, not including when it missed the postseason in 2016, the first time it didn’t at least reach the regional final since 2008.

About 14 hours after Van Horn declared his team was “hitting the crap out of the ball,” the Razorbacks’ offense reverted back to what it had been for much of the season and did its seemingly annual disappearing act.

Even with a late home run by Parker Rowland among four hits over the final two innings, Arkansas managed just three runs on six total hits — a stark contrast to going 29 for 81 (.358) over its first two games of the Fayetteville Regional.

“We came back (from the SEC Tournament) rested and we swung the bat so good on Friday,” Van Horn said. “We swung it really well yesterday, left 13 out there, and then today it looked like we were exhausted. I didn’t really know what to do or say. I think SEMO just did a tremendous job of pitching to us today.”

As bad as it was at the plate, Arkansas still had a chance to make things interesting.

After a home run by Peyton Holt broke up the no-hitter and shutout, the next three Razorbacks reached base thanks to a couple of HBPs sandwiched around a walk. Their hottest hitter was at the plate in Hudson White and SEMO brought in the same reliever Arkansas smacked around two days earlier.

Left-hander Logan Katen quickly fell behind 3-0 and looked like he might walk in a run. After taking a strike, White also looked at the next pitch, which TrackMan showed was outside, but it was also called a strike. Then, in a full count, the Arkansas catcher hit a weak grounder to second that ended the inning.

“He’s thrown five fastballs in-a-row, and you know what he threw? A changeup – 82 mph from 89,” Van Horn said. “He hit it off the end of the bat, and that was the pitch of the game in my opinion. If he throws a fastball, I think he hits it hard. If he throws a ball, we got a run in and here it comes.”

Making matters worse, in the very next half inning, Brooks Kettering launched a monster 387-foot leadoff home run to immediately get the run back that Arkansas did score, firmly securing the momentum in SEMO’s dugout.

The Razorbacks showed some life late, but squandered a second-and-third, no-out opportunipty in the eighth. Rowland’s two-run home run in the ninth was too little, too late.

While the issue in Saturday’s 7-6 loss to Kansas State encapsulated Arkansas’ season-long struggle to get timely hits, with 13 runners left on base, Sunday was much more like games that ended previous seasons.

In the losses that ended their last seven NCAA Tournament appearances, the Razorbacks have averaged just 2.1 runs while hitting a paltry .145 in those seven games combined.

YearOpponent (round)RunsHitting (avg.)
2024SEMO (regional)36 for 33 (.182)
2023TCU (regional)43 for 28 (.107)
2022Ole Miss (CWS)04 for 32 (.125)
2021N.C. State (super regional)24 for 32 (.125)
2019Texas Tech (CWS)*48 for 35 (.229)
2018Oregon State (CWS finals)02 for 29 (.069)
2017Missouri State (regional)25 for 31 (.161)
*Followed a 1-0 loss to Florida State in which the Hogs went 5 for 30

Of course, all but one team ends the postseason with a loss and it’s expected that statistics in losses are worse than in wins, but those are pretty tough numbers in games with the season on the line.

Sunday’s showing was especially disappointing considering it came against an OVC pitching staff on its third game of a weekend that had allowed opponents to hit .278 this season, not to mention how well Arkansas had swung it the two days prior.

“I was really surprised,” Van Horn said. “We didn’t think it would go down like this. I think it’s a combination of their pitchers doing a really good job of mixing pitches and locating, and our guys might have been a tick short, maybe just a little bit tired from yesterday’s ballgame.”

The Hero for SEMO

Making just his fifth start of the season, Collin Wilma took a no-hitter through 4 2/3 innings for the Redhawks.

The same pitcher who posted a 6.86 ERA in OVC play this season battled Arkansas hitters by drastically changing his speeds. He primarily leaned on his curveball, which sat 64-69 mph and he threw about 60% of the time, plus he mixed in a 77-79 mph slider and 89-91 mph fastball to carve up the Razorbacks, who managed to hit two home runs off him in their first matchup with SEMO.

“His whole repertoire was working a lot better (than on Friday),” Arkansas right fielder Kendall Diggs said. “He had the fastball, slider, curveball. I really liked that curveball today. I thought was a lot better than it was the other day.”

At one point, Wilma threw a curveball that registered at 60 mph. With his fastball topping out at 91, that’s a 31 mph gap between his pitches and it clearly frustrated the Arkansas hitters who aren’t used to seeing that kind of velocity in the SEC.

The closest they get to that during the regular season are midweek games against teams from the SWAC and even those soft-tossers have flustered the Razorbacks a bit in the past.

“With a big difference in speed like that, you see the off-speed is super slow and the fastball is harder,” Arkansas second baseman Peyton Stovall said. “He mixed well and credit to him.”

Wilma actually retired 14 of the first 15 batters he faced, with a two-out walk by Diggs in the second inning being the only blemish. He struck out six of those and only a handful of them made solid contact.

It was a much better performance than even his coach could have expected, as SEMO baseball coach Andy Sawyers admitted they were just hoping to get three clean innings out of him.

“I’ve been around this young man for five years,” Sawyers said. “That’s the absolute best he’s ever thrown. Certainly for a school like SEMO to come to one of the Taj Mahals of college baseball and to win a game like that in an elimination setting, it’s going to require some heroics. And I thought Collin’s outing today was heroic.”

The only real mistake Wilma made was hanging one of those 67 mph curveballs to Peyton Holt, who timed it up and crushed it 422 feet over the seats beyond the left field bullpen for his eighth home run of the season.

He also issued three straight free passes to load the bases before a teammate got SEMO out of the jam, but it was still an incredible outing for a fifth-year senior who overcame two surgeries during his career and began the year as the Redhawks’ Opening Day starter before being moved to the bullpen because of injuries elsewhere on the staff.

Before Wilma left the press conference room, Sawyers made a point to praise him for how he handled things this season.

“To his credit, while I’m sure he was disappointed, I never saw it,” Sawyers said. “He continued to be an excellent leader. He continued to be an excellent teammate. He cheered and tried to lead and help and mentor our younger guys that were starting in his spot. I’m a firm believer the game of baseball paid him back for how he handled that because he showed remarkable grace and humility and just love for his teammates with how he handled that.”

Assessing Gage Wood’s Start

For the first three innings, it looked like right-hander Gage Wood was going to match Collin Wilma in a classic pitcher’s duel.

The Batesville native retired eight of the first 10 batters he faced and one of the two he didn’t reached on an infield single before being erased by a double play.

Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the other batter Wood didn’t retire was Ty Stauss, who smacked an 0-1 pitch into the left field bullpen for a two-out home run in the first inning.

“I felt like they weren’t hitting his fastball,” Van Horn said. “It had a lot of carry on it, they were having trouble getting on top of it. But he would try to keep them off-balance a little bit.”

To do that, Wood tried throwing his secondary stuff and it didn’t work out well for him. Things unraveled in the fourth with a leadoff double by Ben Palmer, a walk by Stauss and then an RBI single by Josh Cameron.

The sophomore ended up being charged with four earned runs in three innings, raising his season ERA to 4.46. He did notch four strikeouts, though, giving him 56 in 40 1/3 seasons.

There were moments he looked like a potential weekend starter, a role he’s expected to fill next season, but he still needs to develop his arsenal this offseason to lock down one of those three jobs.

“You’ve got to come up with one more pitch for him, a little more of that off-speed pitch,” Van Horn said. “Change up’s not bad to the lefties, but you’ve got to have a little more of a slider/cutter-type pitch that can be a go-to pitch to go along with that 92-95 mile per hour fastball that he has. Hopefully next year we’ll have that for him.”

Pitching Dries Up at Worst Time

SEMO ended up tacking on two more runs – the aforementioned Brooks Kettering home run and an RBI single by Kettering – against Arkansas’ bullpen, giving it six for the game.

It was the 15th time in the past 18 games that the Razorbacks allowed at least five runs. Their opponents had hit that threshold just 11 times in the first 42 games, at which point they had a 2.87 ERA.

Over the last 18 games, Arkansas allowed 109 earned runs in 156 1/3 innings – a whopping 6.28 ERA. That led the overall season ERA to increase by a full run, to 3.87.

“When you don’t pitch good, you don’t have a chance,” Van Horn said. “The pressure of hitting this type of pitching day in and day out, you’ve got to stop people, and we struggled a little bit the last few weeks.”

Entering the season, the Razorbacks had what was heralded as the best starting rotation in baseball with left-handers Hagen Smith and Mason Molina and right-hander Brady Tygart.

While Smith lived up to the hype and will likely still be named National Pitcher of the Year despite his disastrous fifth inning against Kansas State in the regional, the other two fell off late in the season. Their dropoff corresponded roughly with that stretch of games.

“You’ve got two lefts and a right, and they’re all going to give you innings, they’re all experienced, and then all of a sudden you can see a little crack in the armor,” Van Horn said. “One got wild. One’s always having issues with his arm. The steady is Smith. Smith was the guy. He was a rock. He carried us. The whole season, that guy carried us. I just think the pitching got a little tired.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

With the loss to SEMO, the 2024 Arkansas baseball season is over. The Razorbacks finished 44-16 and won the SEC West, but were eliminated in the Fayetteville Regional for a second straight season.

It’s just the fifth time since the NCAA Tournament went to its current format in 1999 that a team failed to make it out of a regional as a top-8 seed in back-to-back years. The others were Georgia Tech (2003-04), Texas (2006-07), Stanford (2017-18) and Georgia (2018-19).

Given the Bulldogs are in the SEC East, this means Arkansas is the first SEC West team to suffer this particular fate.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • Catcher Hudson White ended the season on a 16-game hitting streak, which he extended with an eighth-inning double Sunday afternoon. Despite a slow start, he ended up slashing .297/.396/.525 — not far off from his .296/.397/.550 line at Texas Tech last year.
  • A sixth-inning single by Ben McLaughlin means he ended his career on a 25-game on-base streak. His 50 walks are tied for sixth on the UA single-season list. Andrew Benintendi (2015) and Jake Dugger (2004) also drew 50 walks, which is the most during the Dave Van Horn era.
  • Freshman Ryder Helfrick made just his second start at catcher over the final 16 games of the season – a stretch in which he started as the designated hitter eight times. That allowed White to be the DH on Sunday.
  • Veteran catcher Parker Rowland entered the game as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning and hit a two-run homer in his lone at bat. It was his first long ball of the season. All 16 players with an at bat this season hit at least one home run.
  • As a team, the Razorbacks hit 87 home runs. That was middle of the pack in the SEC this season, but that total still ranks seventh on the UA’s single-season list. Wehiwa Aloy led the way with 14, but seven others hit between 7-9.
  • The season coming to an end today means Hagen Smith will finish his junior year with 161 strikeouts in 84 innings. That’s 17.25 strikeouts per nine innings, breaking the single-season Division I record of 16.79 set by Houston’s Ryan Wagner in 2003.

See our latest here:

Arkansas vs SEMO Highlights (NCAA Tournament)

Postgame Interviews at Fayetteville Regional

Arkansas vs SEMO Box Score (NCAA Tournament)

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